October has a eerie edge being that it's the month of Halloween. So, doesn't it make sense to add a carnivorous houseplant that has a spooky feel but loads of sophisticated charm? We're talking about Nepenthes tropical pitcher plants (Nepenthes spp.), stunning plants with long, dangling pitchers that attract and eat insects. A Nepenthes in the house is both a trick and a treat at the same time.
While this plant may look exotic and beautiful, the Nepenthes plant is the ultimate haunted house for pesky insects. The large leaves are vibrantly green, the hanging pitchers are colorful, and the sweet nectar inside the pitchers lures bugs to the wide pitcher openings. The insects slide over the slippery rims, glide down the inner walls, and fall into the fluid at the base of the pitcher. There they become food for these carnivorous plants.
Nepenthes are native to rainforests in Borneo, Malaysia, Sumatra, Philippines, New Guinea, Madagascar. and Australia. The plant's pitchers are actually swellings of veins in the leaves and filled with fluid. Monkeys sometimes drink this fluid in the plant's native range (tropical rain forests), giving the spectacular plant the nickname "monkey cups."
Nepenthes makes a unique and stunning houseplant. The bright pitchers are guaranteed to catch every eye in an amazing range of shades of red, yellow, purple, green, and black. Some are patterned with different hues of intricate splotching, like heavy red streaking on a green pitcher. Be sure you pick one you love since these plants, with proper care, can last for many years.
Where to Find
It's possible to find a pitcher plant in your local garden store, especially if you live in or near an urban area. Walmart carries the purple pitcher plant, perhaps the easiest carnivorous plant to grow, although you may want to call ahead to be sure it's in stock. You may also be able to find the red Asian pitcher plant at Walmart as well.
Anyone can find a Nepenthes plant online. Predatory Plants has an incredible selection with cool names like Glorious Triumph, Stoic Hero, and Valiant Beast. And the selection of tropical pitcher plants at CultiveCarnivores will make your head spin. Etsy has a wide selection of the Nepenthes plant, and Amazon offers a few types as well. These include the Asian pitcher plant in a 6-inch hanging basket with several pitchers, and the Alata pitcher in a smaller container for a lower price.
Nepenthes do best in conditions that look and feel like their tropical native realm. These are rainforest plants in the wild so site your tropical pitcher plant where it will get bright light but little direct sun. Broad spectrum plant lights are the way to go if your home doesn't offer dappled shade.
Use porous potting mix with low fertility and don't let that soil dry out. Water is important to pitcher plants including irrigation as well as humidity. Touch the media and it if feels a little dry, give it a deep drink of water (rain, distilled, or purified), but let it run through. Don't allow the plant to sit in water ever. The higher the humidity, the more pitchers your Nepenthes will produce, so mist the plant occasionally. You might also place it on a saucer of water with enough pebbles to keep the bottom of the pot dry.
From Alaska to California, from France's Basque Country to Mexico's Pacific Coast, Teo Spengler has dug the soil, planted seeds and helped trees, flowers and veggies thrive. A professional writer and consummate gardener, Spengler has written about home and garden for Gardening Know How, San Francisco Chronicle, Gardening Guide and Go Banking Rates. She earned a BA from U.C. Santa Cruz, a law degree from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall, and an MA and MFA from San Francisco State. She currently divides her life between San Francisco and southwestern France.